Tea leaf selection
The highest grade white tea, yellow tea and green tea are made from tender tea shoots picked early Spring. These young tea shoots may consist of a single terminal bud, a bud with an adjacent leaf or a bud with two adjacent slightly unfurled leaves. It is generally required that the leaves are equal in length or shorter than the buds.
The more oxidised tea such as red tea or oolong tea () are made from more mature leaves. The Anxi Tieguanyin (), for example, is made from one bud with two to four leaves.
Not all high grade green tea is made from tender tea shoots. The highly regarded green tea Liu An Gua Pian is made from more matured leaves.
Traditionally these tender tea shoots are picked before 5 April, or Qing Ming Jie. The standard practice is to start picking when 5% of the garden is ready, or when the tea buds reach certain size. In some tea gardens, tea shoots are picked daily, or every 2 days.
Chinese tea history
Tea (Camellia sinensis) is native to China. The ancient Chinese used them for medical purposes, then developed the infusion we know as tea; to this day tea is said to purge the digestive system of ‘toxins’. Later the Chinese learned to grow tea plants and use their leaves to make various types of tea.
Many different types of tea were grown during each of the dynasties in China.
A list of the differing grades of tea grown in the Tang Dynasty:
Premier Grade Tea: Xiazhou, Guangzhou, Huzhou, Yuezhou, Pengzhou.
Second Grade Tea: Jingzhou, Ranzhou, Changzhou, Mingzhou.
Third Grade Tea: Shouzhou, Hangzhou, Muzhou, Hengzhou, Taizhou, Xuanzhou, Yiazhou, Luzhou.
Fourth Grade Tea: Jinzhou, Lianzhou, Huangzhou, Sozhou, Yunzhou, Hanzhou, Meizhou.
Tea dates back to the West Zhou Period in ancient China, when the Chinese used tea as offerings. Since then, tea leaves have been eaten as vegetables, used as medicine, and, since the Han dynasty, infused in boiling water, the new drink making tea into a major commodity.
Tea was an important crop during the Song Dynasty. Tea farms covered 242 counties. This included expensive tribute tea; tea from Zhejiang and Fujian provinces, where some was exported to Southeast Asian and the Arab countries.
In the Song Dynasty, tea started to be pressed into tea cake, some embossed with patterns of the dragon and the Phoenix and was called exotic names including:
Large dragon tea cake
Large Dragon tea cake, Small Dragon tea cake, Surpass Snow Dragon ball cake, Fine Silver Sprout, Cloud Leaf, Gold Money, Jade Flower, Inch of Gold, Longevity Sprout, Eternal Spring Jade Leave, Dragon in the Clouds, Longevity Dragon Sprout, Dragon Phoenix and Flower, Eternal Spring Silver Sprout.
Ming dynasty scholar Wen Zhenheng’s book Zhang Wu Zhi (On Superfluous Things) chapter 12 contains description of several famous Ming dynasty teas:
Tiger Hill Tea and Heaven Pool Tea
During this time Tiger Hill Tea (not to be confused with the “black” tea of the same name from the Nilgiris District in what is now Tamil Nadu in southeastern India) was purportedly developed as (still) the finest tea in the world, however, the production quantity was rather small, and growing is regulated by the Chinese government. Some, however, consider its taste to be second to Heaven Pool tea. Zhen Heng.
Jie Tea () from Chang Xing in Zhejiang Province () is superb and highly regarded, though rather expensive.
NB: “Jie” is the short name for “Luo Jie” (). Luo Jie is the name of a mountain bordering Zhejiang and Jing Qi where, during the Ming dynasty, “jie” meant boundary. Chang Xin lay to the south of Luo Jie mountain while Jing Qi lay to the north of it. Chang Xin still retains its name today.
Luo yeye shi chou Jie tea from Gu Chu mountain in Chang Xing county in Zhejiang was also known as Gu Chu Voilet Shoot. Gu Chu Voilet Shoot had been imperial tribute tea since the Tang dynasty for nearly nine hundred years until the middle of the Qin dynasty. Gu Chu Voilet Shoot was revived again in the seventies as a top grade tea in China.
NB. Jin Qi is now called Yi Xin township. Jin Qi tea was also known as Yang Xian tea. Ruo Leaves are leaves from Indocalamus tessellatus bamboo. The leaf is about 45 cm long.
Liu An Tea
“Liu An” tea () is used for Chinese medicine, although if it is not baked right, it cannot let out its aroma and has a bitter taste. The inherent quality of this tea is actually quite good. Wen Zhenheng
This type of tea is especially suitable for people who are suffering from gastric problem.
Note: Liu An is a county in Anhui Province () in China. Liu An tea is still produced in Liu An county. The Liu An tea from the Bat Cave of Jin Zai () county is of superior quality, as thousand of bats in the cave can provide an ideal fertilizer for the tea plants.
Song Luo Tea
Song Luo tea is manufactured at Song Luo mountain located north of Xiu Ning township () in An Hui province () in China. The tea farms are scattered at an elevation of six to seven hundred meters on the mountain.
There is no real Song Luo tea grown outside an area of a dozen mu* and only one or two families possess the refined skill to prepare Song Luo tea. The tea hand-baked recently by mountain monks is even better.
Genuine Song Luo tea is produced at the foot of the Dong Shan (Cave Hill) and on top of the Tian Chi (Heaven Pool), highly treasured by people in Xin’an County. It is also a favorite for the people of Nan Du and Qu Zong counties, due to its ease in brewing and intense aroma.
One mu = 667 square meters.
Dragon Well Tea and Eyes on Heaven Tea
Long Jing tea () and Tian Mu () tea may match Heaven Pool tea due to the weather in their growing regions. Because the cold season comes earlier to the mountains, there is abundant snow in the winter, hence the tea plants germinate later. [Wen Zhenheng]
Long Jing tea is manufactured in the West Lake () district in Hangzhou city, China. There is a Longjing (Dragon Well) on the Feng Huang mountain (). Tian Mu mountain is located in Lin An county () in the north west of Zhejiang province (). There are two 1500-meter peaks, each with a pond on top filled with crystal clear water looking like an eye, hence the name of Eyes on Heaven.
Quick tea (Instant tea)
2007 – All In This Tea. Co-directed by Les Blank and Gina Leibrecht.
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^ Amazing-Green-Tea.com, “”The Chinese Green Tea Crown Jewel””. http://www.amazing-green-tea.com/chinese-green-tea.html. , www.amazing-green-tea.com
Netsons.org “The History of Chinese Tea”
About.com “Chinese Tea Drinking”
Wen Zhen Heng: On Superfluous Things, Zhang Wu Zhi
Translated by Gisling from Wen Zhenheng: Zhang Wu Zhi
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Evans, John C., Tea in China: The History of China’s National Drink. Contributions to the Study of World History, Number 33. Greenwood Press: New York; Westport, Connecticut; London, 1992. ISSN: 0885-9159, ISBN: 0-313-28049-5.
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